Memo to President Cites New Evidence of Climate Impacts of Proposed Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Market realities show that the pipeline would significantly boost tar sands production and associated carbon emissions

WASHINGTON (December 18, 2014) – President Obama should reject the proposed Keystone XL pipeline because there is new data that shows it would dramatically expand development of dirty tar sands oil, turbo-charging climate change by adding millions of tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere every year, according to a memo sent to Obama by Oil Change International and the Natural Resources Defense Council, along with the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club,, CREDO, and Bold Nebraska.

The memo, delivered to the White House today, analyzes current oil and transport economics, the climate impacts of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on tar sands expansion, and cites a November U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stating that 75 to 86 percent of the world’s fossil fuels must stay undeveloped to escape serious impacts of climate change.

Together, these factors provide fresh evidence that the proposed Keystone XL tar sands project fails the “climate test” President Obama laid out last year and should be rejected.

“Because of the drop in oil price among other factors, it is now undeniable that the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will cause significant additional carbon pollution and it therefore now clearly fails the climate test that the president established at Georgetown University last year,” said Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International. “The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline should be the first fossil fuel project rejected explicitly on climate grounds.  It will not be the last."  

“The case is stronger than ever to reject the dangerous Keystone XL tar sands project,” said Anthony Swift, staff attorney in NRDC’s international program. “Market forces and the latest climate science make it clear Keystone XL shouldn’t be approved because it would drive up carbon pollution, making climate change worse and jeopardizing our future. It’s not a plan to help our country. It’s about big profits for big oil - and big pollution for the rest of us. It’s a terrible idea, and it needs to be denied.”

The memo notes that the tar sands industry plans a major expansion of production over the next decade. In order to succeed profitably, the industry will need cheap transport options, high oil prices, and manageable production costs. But three recent factors have made clear that without the Keystone XL pipeline, fewer tar sands projects will be profitable:


  1. Oil prices have fallen dramatically, the global oil market has changed, and previous assumptions about OPEC’s response to falling prices are proving wrong. Prices now are below the break point needed for tar sands expansion, but they could continue going up and down in years ahead;
  2. Other proposed transport options will not work for tar sands, as predicted by conservationists. The costs and limitations of rail transportation for tar sands crude have become clearer, demonstrating that only pipelines can support the scale of the planned expansion of tar sands production. However, pipeline construction is far from certain, and virtually all other proposed pipelines face stiff opposition;
  3. High cost, high pollution tar sands crude is clearly among those reserves that must be left in the ground if we are to achieve our climate goals, based on the findings of a November 2014 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which makes it clear that 75-86% of existing proven fossil fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground in order to achieve our national and international climate goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Given this, it makes no sense to enable the construction of infrastructure that will facilitate exploration for more reserves and the extraction of some of the most carbon intensive oil reserves.


The memo comes at a time when President Obama continues to weigh the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline that would ship tar sands from Canada’s boreal forests through the western United States, including Nebraska, to the Gulf of Mexico, largely for export overseas.

The president has said that approving the Keystone project would require a finding that it’s in our national interest and will not significantly exacerbate carbon pollution.

In the context of increased efforts by the administration to work with the international community to combat climate change, and the president’s desire to secure his legacy as a climate champion, it is now clearer than ever that approving Keystone XL would be incompatible with these efforts.

Despite the stronger case for the U.S. denying Keystone XL, Canada continues trying to build the pipeline and expand tar sands development. At recent international climate talks in Lima, Peru, Canadian governmental officials said they would not seek to control emissions from tar sands, even though many analysts say that makes it virtually impossible for Canada to reach its 2020 target for greenhouse gas reductions.

The memo is available here:


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